The Films That Changed My Life: Sophie Mathisen

April 21, 2016
The director of the French-set charmer, Drama (and now the director of The World Of Women’s Cinema (WOW) Film Festival too), picks her most important flicks.


“This was the first film that I longed to see. When it came out, my parents deemed it too scary for my five-year-old self. I remember seething at home while my sisters and parents were away, knowing that I was missing out on a watershed moment. Deviant child that I was, I managed to cajole a friend’s mum into taking the pair of us, and for weeks afterwards, I refused to sleep in my bed positioned adjacent to the door, petrified from a stealthy side-on raptor attack. It’s still one of my all time top films.”


“I saw this when I was in my early teens, and it had a profound effect on me. Having curly red frizzy hair isn’t a blessing in a coastal beachside community, but seeing Judy Davis dish out sass sporting top knots with fly-aways really gave me a spring in my step. I remember my Mum telling me that this was the first film that made her feel proud to be an Australian woman, and I felt a profound connection to my lineage through the film. As I grew up, the knowledge that the film was driven by a female writer, producer, and director left a strong imprint.”


“I came to this through my sisters, on VHS many years after its release, and despite the fact that I wasn’t the intended audience, it really didn’t matter. The strength of the dialogue and the realness of the interactions made me feel like I was being treated honestly, rather than patronised, and I respected that. A lot of critics trashed the film, calling it navel gazing and irrelevant, but I think it’s incredible. It’s a simple, funny, nuanced portrait of a female protagonist dealing with an uncertain future, fucking up but still smiling. There are few films that hold strong cultural significance that come from the mind of a woman, and this is one of them.”


“As a filmmaker, there’s always gotta be at least one wanky choice in there, right? I saw this around uni time, and it started me on a tangent into French New Wave cinema that I still enjoy now. That period specifically speaks to me in terms of its rebellion and the sheer doggedness to create. Such an incredible amount of films were generated in a relatively short period of time, a product of a collaborative egging on. Artists work best when they’re actively engaged with one another, and that binding to a time, or movement, seems to attract and develop talent, like The Algonquin Round Table. Work begets work, and perhaps you find the impetus in someone else’s that then inspires your own.”

DRAMA (2015)

“It might seem arrogant to put down my own film, but as any director will tell you, the first feature is a lot of pressure. I had no idea until I started what the actual experience would be, but it changed me, and continues to change me, nearly two years since finishing the thing. I made decisions that I didn’t quite understand at the time, but now, with a bit of distance, I see a logical progression of where I had been. I employed a 50% female crew, kind of out of frustration, but mostly because it just seemed logical. I didn’t deem it a ‘statement’, nor was it a gimmick, it was just fair. The women and men who slogged it out with me, sleeping on air mattresses in France and shooting for nineteen hours a day, became a strong and close group over the course of the shoot. When one person faltered, someone picked up the slack, and it didn’t matter the gender – everyone pitched in on everything. It was incredible to watch gender become less and less important as the shoot wore on; if a job needed doing, it would be done. The experience really gave me a new appreciation of how hard women work to change dominant male culture, but still manage to smile while doing so. It made me thankful for the role models who encouraged me and motivated me to share my experience with others. It led me to my new role as Festival Director of WOW, which in turn has inspired in me a deep awe for all women who are engaged in a similar struggle.”

The World Of Women’s Cinema (WOW) Film Festival runs from April 28-May 1 in Sydney, and will then tour across Australia. For all information, head to the website.

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